Category: Small Group stories

Don’t overlook the young guys

This is a series of posts where small group experts share how group life has impacted them personally.  The entire series can be found HERE.
Steve Gladen is the Pastor of Small Group Community at Saddleback Church. He oversees the strategic launch and development of their 3,500 adult small groups. His new book, Small Groups with Purpose, comes out in June 2011.  You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


Flashback with me to 1977. While most of the living population was born, probably the readers of this blog weren’t born (as painful as that is to say). I was a junior in high school. I was also a new follower of Christ. What was high school like for me? Was I an ESPN 150 Top Pick?

Not even close.

Getting ready to attend my first prom?

No again.

I was actually a late bloomer in many ways. A scholar?

Nope. I had to struggle just to get C’s and B’s. Luckily, gym class was always there to pull up my GPA!

But, surely, I was a sought-after young Christian leader, right?

Not even close.

When I think of what phrase might best describe me during this time, it is “in the background.” I was not a part of the in-crowd, the Who’s Who, the pretty people, or those who were invited to parties. And, worse yet, I had no ideas or the plans for the future. I was clueless. My dad was in business, so I had a vague notion that I would head down that path too. And that pretty much summed up my goals at the time. I enjoyed my life and basically just took it one day at a time.

The Story Begins

Enter a man named Ron Swiger. Ron was an adult in my church who took me under his wing without me ever realizing he was doing it. Our church didn’t have small groups, but they did have Sunday School and a Bus Ministry (Google it – it was a phenomenon in the 1970’s). That Sunday School functioned much like a small group. The Bus Ministry included serving and evangelism. Although the methodologies I use today are different, I realize, now, what a powerful role Ron played in my life.

Ron made sure I was involved and gave me a place to belong. He asked me to be an assistant in the Bus Ministry on his bus. He spent time with me. He did ministry in such a way that I wanted to be like him. He was also my Sunday School teacher. He was far ahead of his time and was a master at promoting growth in his students. He taught me to pray. He challenged me to give back to God. He taught the Bible in a relevant way.

Most importantly, he modeled what he taught. That Sunday School class was probably the best disguised small group of the day. We didn’t just learn biblical facts, we learned how to live life together. We had parties, interacted with the greater church, did outreach events together, and learned to challenge each other to deal with the dark areas of our heart.

Were we perfect?  No. Did I apply everything I learned to my life?  No. But did that class make an impact in my life? Yes!

A growing seed

When Ron stepped out of the role as my mentor, another man stepped in, Bill Brown.  God used him to build on the foundation Ron had started.  During those years of high school, despite my clueless nature, a seed was planted for ministry.  That seed would not bloom for almost 8 years, but it was still firmly planted.  And I owe a lot to those two men and others who had community with me.

What’s the moral of the story? When you look across the horizon of your church, you might not see the next young leader. You might just see a bunch of “clueless” people.

But don’t overlook them.

Because two guys were willing to pour into my life, I am where I am today. Community is where people are shaped for the future. Be willing to shape those God has put before you – not the ones you want to shape.

Has anyone invested in you?

Are you investing in the next generation?



It happened one Thursday night

This is a series of posts where small group experts share how group life has impacted them personally.  The entire series can be found HERE.
This is a guest post from Mark Howell, founder of, and Community Life Pastor at Parkview Christian Church. You should read Mark’s blog HERE, and follow him on twitter and Facebook.


Ever read the Gospels and find yourself thinking, “Would have loved to be a fly on that wall!  What an amazing conversation! Wish I could’ve been there!”

One of those stories actually came to life for me not long ago.  We were studying the 10 commandments using The Ten by Liquid.  We were working our way through the session on “You shall not murder (Exodus 20:13).”  The way the study works is that it doesn’t stop with a look at the commandment itself.  It flows right into what Jesus had to say about the commandment in Matthew 5:21-22 and then what John had to say in 1 John 3:11-24.

In order to fully get the scene, you need to know a couple things about my group.

  1. My wife and I agreed to help some friends of ours get a group started to do 40 Days of Purpose.  But the thing is, they live about 35 minutes away.  We really weren’t in it for the long haul.  Just to help them get it started.
  2. As our group members went around and introduced themselves on that first night…we were amazed to find out that something like 9 of the 12 who were there had religious backgrounds where they really knew very little about the Bible.

Two things have been going on since we started in October.

  1. I dread that drive every week.  Just sayin’.
  2. Some amazing things happen almost every week.

Now back to the night we were talking about “you shall not murder.”  We were  wrestling with phrases like “anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment (Matthew 5:22)” and “anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him (1 John 3:15).

It was already quite a discussion.  And then…without warning three different group members blurted out the equivalent of “if that’s really the way it is then am I going to hell?”

Oh.  My.

It was seriously amazing.  I said, “That is a great question, you guys!  Let’s take a minute to clear up something right now.  If you have your Bible, turn over to 1 John 1:9 and let’s get something in concrete right now.”  And we spent the next few minutes making sure my new friends got the idea that we’re all human, that all of us have fallen short, and that God’s forgiveness is always only a moment away.  And not only that, but that our relationship with God is always secure.

What a night!  Easily one of the top 10 spiritual experiences of my life.  My friends left the group that night knowing a very big thing.  Their faith was strengthened.  And you know what?  So was mine!  I’ll never look at that commandment the same way again.  And neither will my friends.

Have you ever had a small group discussion that really clarified some part of the Christian life for you?

Have you ever had a “spiritual experience” in a small group?


Healthy community is not comfortable

Reid Smith (on Twitter and Facebook) is the Director of Adult Ministries for the 20,000 member multi-site Christ Fellowship Church in South Florida and is a regular contributing author to and through his small group training and resource ministry called 2orMore.  This is a series of posts where small group experts share how group life has impacted them personally.  The entire series can be found HERE.


One of my first small group experiences is still fresh in my memory.

In college I remember falling in love with God’s Word through the Bible study I did in community with others. The contributions of others revealed the richness of the Scriptures to me. Each discovery energized the faith of those of us huddled in Jesus’ Name, drawing out further insights and encouraging conversation.

My small group helped me to take risks in sharing my thoughts about spiritual things with others. This too was foundational for what God was preparing me to do in the future. I walked away stronger from the Bible studies in my small group because I knew I was growing closer to God and I wasn’t alone in the process.

I don’t think I realized how much that small group was encouraging me in things that seasoned Christ-followers can far too easily take for granted like praying aloud in the company of others, sharing a revelation that may (or may not) be obvious to others reading the same Bible passage, or responding to a prompting by the Holy Spirit to serve another in God’s household in some unique way.

My pursuit of the divine felt like an adventure with my band of brothers. They gave me permission to add to the conversation and influence. The power of the Word was demonstrated to me in how God inspired each one through our sharing. I loved the fact that even though I read a passage repeatedly, I could never see everything that came out in our conversations.
One other empowering experience through this early small group experience was our road-trip to downtown Washington, D.C., where we fed the homeless and talked with people on the sidewalks of Georgetown about Christ. It was one of the most terrifying and uplifting experiences I had as a newer believer. I remember my hesitancy, but knowing that what we were doing was right.

It was the prayer and encouragements of those in my small group that help me and everyone else to step out of our comfort zones. As a result, I encountered Jesus through our serving (Matthew 25:40). I saw God break-through to a seeking heart that received the Gospel despite the mocking of his friends. Community brought me to places where I saw God at work. Places I would never have visited if it weren’t for the fellowship of others in Christ.

Small groups may not always seem glorious from the outside looking in, but somehow God used that community of young believers to turn me inside-out for His glory. I fell in love with small groups early on because they helped me fall in love with God, His Word, and the communion of saints that enabled me to be Jesus to those who were in search of Him.

Have you ever been a part of a community that stretched and shook you?

Are you willing to do whatever it takes to have that healthy community?



This is a guest post by Greg Bowman (on Twitter & Facebook) lives in Elgin, Illinois, where he is on staff with West Ridge Community Church as the Pastor of Spiritual Formation. He is co-author of Coaching Life-Changing Small Group Leaders and co-founder of the Communitas Network.  This is a series of posts where small group experts share how group life has impacted them personally.  The entire series can be found HERE.


For more than 30 years I’ve been a fan, student, proponent, leader and practitioner of group life. Dozens of significant mile markers stand out in my journey, but none more than the first time I felt genuine love and the invitation to be vulnerable and open in community.

I was the group’s pastor, and our group life ministry was in its infancy. We were in the honeymoon phase where everything was wonderful. We couldn’t even spell the word conflict in our groups.

In the church a series of events had led to the dismissal of a much loved staff member. The rumor mill was working overtime and people were hurting. An emergency leadership meeting forced a hard call–I needed to miss our life group on Monday night in order to attend.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, the church-wide pain spilled into the group that night. The lesson topic for the night was set aside and the group spent the evening questioning the wisdom of the church’s. At least that was my take on what happened when my wife filled me in later.

I spent the following week preparing to rescue the group from the conflict at the next meeting. I had it a great discussion scripted out. But it didn’t quite go as I planned.

After the usual coffee and snacks we gathered in the living room. I opened brilliantly. “So I am aware of the discussion last week, and I’m glad for the openness and honesty we feel as a group. I’m just wondering how is everyone doing this week?” There. It’s out in the open.

What happened next is what blew me away. From across the room one of the group members looked me in the eye and said, “We’ve all been in conversation with each other this week, Greg. We’re all fine. We support the leadership and we understand the decision. But knowing what you have been through, our question is, how are you?”

I was completely caught off guard. It was a level of maturity and care beyond what I was expecting from the group. Instantly I broke. To be honest, in the three months of conflict I had been through no one had cared enough to ask me that question. And so we processed my pain as a group. And then they put me in the center, laid hands on me and prayed.

That moment marked me. I realized that I could no longer simply teach community, or lead community in the local church. From a leadership perspective that’s inauthentic. From a personal perspective it’s not how I want to do the rest of my life. I want and need to do my life connected deeply to people who are authentic with their struggles and successes and who are open to share life in the context of community.

What experiences have marked you deeply in community? Helped form your core values?


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